Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Biodynamic winemakers - complete freaks ?

Weird people ?
If I told you that a biodynamic winemaker takes the flower heads of yarrow, fermented in a stag's bladder, and applies them to compost, or that he ferments oak bark in the skull of a domestic animal, you would think he was a bit nuts, wouldn't you? That's why people don't shout about it - it's just too weird.

But such processes seem to work. Some of the world's greatest wine producers are already making wine biodynamically, and increasing numbers are dabbling in it, from California to Australia, Chile to South Africa, Italy to France - especially France.

What is biodynamic winemaking?
So what exactly is biodynamic winemaking? Good question. Let me say that many winemakers who do it don't fully understand it. "It's like Japanese: if you jump straight into it, it's too esoteric, too strange," says Alsace biodynamic winemaker André Ostertag.
Another convert, Dominique Lafon, from the great Meursault estate of the same name, adds: "At first you can't believe the stories that you hear, but once you see for yourself what is going on in the vineyard, you are more ready to accept it."

The term "biodynamic" translates roughly from its Greek roots as meaning "working with life energies". Biodynamic wines are those made from grapes grown following the principles of biodynamic agriculture, stemming from a series of lectures delivered by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), linking man, the earth and the cosmos.
Steiner believed: "It is impossible to understand plant life without taking into account that everything on Earth is actually only a reflection of what is taking place in the cosmos." The biodynamic farmer thus sees the farm in the context of a wider pattern of lunar and cosmic rhythms. No synthetic fertilisers or pesticides are used here instead, they use a range of special preparations (the aforementioned oak bark, etc) to boost the productivity of the soil. These are diluted, then applied in homeopathic quantities determined by the position and influences of the sun, moon and stars.

The height of the moon, for example, is crucial to the planting cycle.
When the moon is descending, sap flows downwards and things don't grow as fast (including your hair, apparently - so it's a good time to get it cut), making this the best time to plant young vines. But that, of course, depends on where you are in the signs of the zodiac. I told you it was weird.
The days in the biodynamic agricultural calendar are divided up according to the signs of the zodiac. There are root days (earth signs - Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), leaf days (water signs - Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), flower days (air signs - Gemini, Aquarius, Libra) and fruit days (fire signs - Leo, Sagittarius, Aries). If you plant your potatoes on a root day in a falling moon, you'll have a perfect crop - or something like that. This is organic farming with knobs on.
It sounds mysterious, I know, but grape growers who have embraced the system report great improvements in the health of their vineyards, while winemakers claim to produce cleaner, more vibrant wines.

Lafon, who first started experimenting with biodynamics more than 10 years ago, says: "You see better growth in the vineyard - longer shoots, with roots that go really deep. I saw a vineyard that was almost dead double its crop after being farmed biodynamically."
And he declares: "Our fruit is riper, more intense, and better balanced in terms of acidity, with a more even crop. And all of us have felt that there's more energy in the wines - in the whites, especially."

Alsace on the lead
There are more than 20 producers in Burgundy who are into biodynamics, but Alsace boasts more than anywhere else in the world. "I guess it's a question of geography - Steiner's influence along the Rhine," explains Ostertag, who first experimented with it in 1997.
He, too, saw a virused vineyard spring back to life with biodynamics. "I was so impressed, I had to try it," he says. "It became less and less strange as I went along, though I can't explain why it works. Even scientists don't understand how it works. It's not rational, and I'm a really rational person. I don't think about it too much, I just do it."

You'll have to do your homework to search out biodynamic producers - most don't exactly shout about it (it's a spiritual thing, rather than a marketing thing), and give no indication on the back labels. Those that do so open up another can of worms, as very few growers are certified biodynamic (Demeter, a certified trademark of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association, is the main certifying body in the UK).

You could always search out Frederic Grappe. He runs Dynamic Vines, the first wine supplier to concentrate on biodynamic wines. His name might be familiar to many in the industry - he was formerly head sommelier at both Orrery and Roussillon restaurants in London. He has about 70 biodynamic wines on his books, from 18 different producers - all French, except one from Spain. And, yes, his on-trade accounts are mostly top-end, so far.
Grappe says: "I feel that these wines really need to be explained, so I need passionate people buying them, with serious lists." That said, one of his biggest customers is a modest French bistro, La Trouvaille, off London's Carnaby Street, whose co-owner, Guillaume Siard, is now a huge fan of biodynamic wines and lists 85 of them on his 100-bin list.
The bistro didn't start out that way, however. "When we opened eight years ago," Siard says, "we specialised in wines from the South of France, but we realised that most of the wines that we had chosen for the list were made organically or biodynamically. I am drawn to wines that have pure flavours, a vibrancy, balance and authenticity - which these have. But you need to choose carefully. Just because the wines are organic and biodynamic doesn't mean they are good."
He does attempt to explain biodynamics on his list, but to keep things simple he marks each wine with an "N" for natural. He explains: "It's much easier that way, as some aren't certified organic or biodynamic, and some are."

Grappe has lots of explaining to do, but most people get it, he says. "Restaurant wine buyers are becoming increasingly bored with the globalisation of wines - the lack of identity and character," he believes. "Biodynamic wines are just so much more authentic - closer to the area they come from."
This is what drew him to biodynamic wines in the first place. "My palate was just moving closer and closer to these kinds of wines," he explains. "It's not just about the wines, either, it's about the people behind it. And there are more and more winemakers moving in this direction. In France, they were seen as complete freaks up until five years ago. Some people still think that."

You can't really blame them. Biodynamic winemaking has provoked a fair amount of scepticism, especially in the scientific community, who are put off by its rather esoteric, cultish image. And no full studies have been conducted yet, which would help its wider acceptance.

Nobody can say for sure how biodynamics contributes to these wines. There aren't any non-biodynamic wines made by the same producers in the same way to compare them against, and the practice has picked up only in the past 10 years.
Biodynamic agriculture is tricky and precise, and requires an enormous commitment from the winemaker, but the fact remains that some of the best vineyards - and vegetable gardens - in the world are biodynamic.

Based on an article in Caterer & Hotelkeeper

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Possibility to join luxury Alsace tour in May 2018

Although JoliSoleil offers mostly private tours, some of our customers ask us for the possibility to share a tour or join an existing tour group.

On a Notice Board page on our Website we post possibilities to join an existing group.

We have for May in Alsace:

An English speaking (American) couple plans a 4 day Luxury Wine and Food tour in Alsace.
Period (options):
1) May 16-19
2) May  9 -12
3) May 23-26
Language spoken on this tour will be English
The tour consists of:

  • tastings at  7 wineries,
  • 3 lunches (normal),
  • 3 dinners (1 Michelin starred including wines)
  • All transport except for the morning of day 3.
A more detailed program description is available on request.
Euro 810,= per person
Interested ? Then please mail to

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Gourmet getaways

Which wineries to visit
On our private wine tours we first of all offer our clients a general overview of what the region has to offer. That means they will get to know and taste all official grapes that are allowed in the area.
And then of course we compare many wines: grand cru's of Alsace, premier and grand cru's from Burgundy and docg's from Tuscany.

We always end a tour in the afternoon at one of the top wineries in the area. The customer having tasted and learned a lot during the tour day(s), often knows which wines would be most worthwhile to finish with.
I, as a wine guide spending the time with my clients getting to know them, can often predict which wines would be most interesting for them to try and buy at the end.
These are some great advantages of a private tour with a knowledgeable wine guide (...)

Maybe I should stress the fact that I do not do the same tour every day. I select the wineries to visit in a more or less logical order for driving but I also will build up a variety. If communicated before, my selection of wineries for the visits is also based on the clients preferences and suggestions.

Lunch and dinner
For lunch I always select at least a good restaurant. I want to present my customers the great (local) food that the region has to offer.  And quality goes over quantity! Too much food for lunch can ruin the following afternoon tastings. And people need to save some space for dinner in the evening too of course.

Michelin stars
A lot of my clients ask me for the possibility to include lunch and/or dinner in a Michelin starred restaurant. After all they are on vacation and doing an exclusive wine tasting, so often they are in the mood to give their taste buds a food treat too.
In some cases they just want to experience the having been in a famous Michelin starred restaurant. In other cases they have read about a special menu, the chef, a dish etc..
Last but not least: in such a restaurant a wine and food pairing will be perfect!

I often discuss possibilities with the restaurants sommelier beforehand and also sur place we can discuss wine pairing details with the very knowledgable sommeliers.

Here is another advantage of a private tour. In a mixed group I cannot force people to spend more money then they might have expected for let us say "just a pizza" or a "tarte flambee".
Normally we spend 25-30 Euro p.p. without drinks.

In a private group we can discuss things beforehand and reserve an exclusive table..
By the way: many Michelin starred restaurants offer lunch menu's for about 45-55 Euro p.p. during the week. Sure, a little more expensive, but a pleasant surprise for lots of people.

Michelin in Alsace, Burgundy and Tuscany
The Michelin restaurant guides are well known all over the world. In countries like France and Italy they are very important.
I sometimes go to dine there in private, but thanks to you: "the JoliSoleil wine tour customers" I have visited a lot of them in my area's quite a few times now.
Over the years I got to know a lot of chefs and sommeliers personally, which absolutely adds to my job satisfaction.

Gourmet Getaways
As a logical answer to the demands of a group of customers JoliSoleil now also offers: "Gourmet Getaways".
This is something special  for a special occasions like a romantic weekend, a wedding, a special business achivement, etc.
They are always private events

In a 3 -, 4- or 5- day Gourmet Getaway  you will enjoy:

- lunches at Michelin "Bib Gourmand" or "Star restaurants"
- an introduction and wine tasting and at your hotel
- visits and tastings of the top wineries of the area (4 per tasting day, so for example 8 visits on a 3- day Getaway
- at least one 5-course dinner with matching wines in a top Michelin * restaurant.
- you will meet many wine makers and chefs personally

We can assist you in booking a room in a 5-star hotel either in a city like:
  • Colmar or Strasbourg in Alsace
  • Beaune or Dijon in Burgundy
  • Siena or Florence in Tuscany
In all areas are also beautiful resorts in the country site.

To give you an idea: prices for a 3 day Getaway start at Euro 1.250,= p.p., but better mail us to get a personal proposal for your private tailor made Gourmet Getaway.

Monday, January 8, 2018

2018 - another year has begun.

All the special wine glasses are washed and put away for the next special occasion. The year 2018 has really begun. That does not mean that there are no more wine glasses at hand of course.
They are our more our standard day to day glasses that can be used for lots of different wines and last but not least are not to vulnerable.

Being in the wine touring business for some years now means lots of contacts with winemakers. We follow their activities and we talk with them about the weather often.
It is interesting to be "around" so to speak, when there are hail storms in spring in Burgundy or Alsace or like in the beginning of 2017 to witness the frost periods after some mild weeks in March which already woke up nature.
Fascinating and scary to see how winemakers in for example the freezing Volnay area in Burgundy made hay fires at night trying to save the buds. In other parts they use fuel stoves.
Still damages in Chablis for example and here and there even in Alsace.

Another thing I remember very vividly were the hot summers of 2003, 2009 and for example the summer of 2015. I remember touring at 40+ C and more in 2015 with the airco at full blast in my car. I remember nature gasping for water. The grape vines still looked healthy but their maturing grapes were  sometimes still a bit small.  I remember talking to wine makers being happy and a bit worried at the same time. As they are not allowed to irrigate, the root system of their vines had adapted to all of that dryness. They went deep even in granite soil. But has to rain at some time....

Most wine makers left the leaves growing on the branches, sticking out, so they would protect the grapes  from too much sun, like a parasol. In other years they might have pruned them to get sun on the grapes. These are decisions you can only make once per season. You cannot glue the protecting leaves back on.
Some biodynamic wine makers even sprayed camomile tea over the plants to relax them. Yes, it works for humans and it also works for plants.

Finally, at the end of August it did rain....Not too much...; and then after a couple of days some more. Ideal !!! Just what the grapes needed to survive, grow a bit more and further mature. Big smiles on all the wine makers faces. In Alsace this became a great year for Pinot Noir but also for other grape variaties. The results in Burgundy and Tuscany were also great.

What will 2018 bring? We already had some snow at the end of 2017. And then lots of rain and floodings in the first week of the new year. Temperatures are still mild.
We will follow the weather forecasts on TV every day again. We will also be looking outside on our 2018 tours and "feel the weather" and of course discuss the weather lots of times, sipping a glass.
Fun !!!
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